June 29, 2011

John*, 15, his brother Matthew*, 3, and their mother left Libya on a boat headed for Italy when the war began. They lost their mother when the boat capsized. 

Some 3,000 sub-Saharan Africans are stranded in camps at the Tunisian border with Libya. Most had fled violence or repression in their own countries in search of work in Libya. Due to the war, they had to flee. But due to the situations in their native countries, they cannot be repatriated, and are therefore stuck where they are, their futures uncertain.

Many had been detained while they were in Libya. Others have lost relatives—parents, husbands, wives, or children. Some were physically injured. Some have endured severe psychological trauma. And now tensions are building in Shousha, the unsurprising result of the collective circumstances of the people in the camps. Despite past experiences, many would actually prefer to go back to Libya. Despite the dangers, many would rather risk the perilous and sometimes fatal journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been working in the camps for several months, offering medical and psychological care, and collecting testimonies such as this one:  

John*, 15, and Matthew*, 3, from Nigeria, lost their mother after a boat she was on capsized on its way to Italy.

"We were living with our mother in Libya for the past five years. She owned a hair salon in Tripoli," said John.

"When the crisis began in Libya, everything was destroyed. We decided to flee the war and cross the Mediterranean Sea to start a new life in Italy, where one of our uncles lives.

We took a ship at the end of May, but our trip went badly wrong. We spent six days lost in the sea without food or water. Some people drank sea water. People started dying.

After six days, the ship hit a rock and capsized. Tunisian fishing boats saw us and two bigger ships came to our rescue, but it was already too late for many of us.

I was wearing a life jacket and managed to swim, holding my little brother Matthew. But my mother did not wear one. We cannot find her.

We were taken to the port of Sfax and brought to the Tunisian-Libyan border. There, we received food, water and clothes.

But we want to find our mother. We don't know where she is.

Now we live in a camp, the two of us. We don't know where our father is. Our parents divorced a few years ago. He may be in Egypt. We have an uncle in Italy, maybe they can help us to get there. At least our lives would be okay there.

Matthew doesn't understand what is going on. When he asks about his mother, I tell him she went to the market and has yet to return. That's the only way I find to calm down his mind. He wants to see his mother.

We cannot go back to Nigeria. There is nobody to take care of my little brother there. I want to go to Italy, because that is where we have a person."

* Names have been changed to protect identities

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